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The casino buzz is growing in the city

Date: 8/1/2012

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD — Although only one developer has actually invested money into a location for a casino, interest in Springfield apparently is heating up.

Hard Rock International released a statement to Reminder Publications, formally acknowledging that company's consideration of the city.

A Hard Rock spokesperson said, "Hard Rock International is interested in Massachusetts for a potential hotel/casino development, with Springfield being one of our focus areas of contention.

"As a global leader in entertainment with 175 venues in 53 countries, we plan to inject unparalleled offerings in music, fun and entertainment through our Hard Rock Cafe, Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, as well as renowned live musical events. The Hard Rock brand believes music is a universal language everyone speaks and helps bring communities together.

"Hard Rock has been reviewing Springfield as one of those prospective communities. Not only would the Hard Rock brand complement and expand the emphasis on arts and culture, it would also help stimulate increased economic development to the area.

"Additionally, as a brand we are committed to make heightened public safety in downtown Springfield a top priority. For more information on Hard Rock International, please visit"

The statement came after Hard Rock officials recently visited the city. There were also media reports the MGM Grand officials also visited the city.

Why all of this attention on Springfield? Perhaps a story carried by the Las Vegas Advisor website, which reports both information for visitors to the city as well as gaming industry news, provides a reason.

Anthony Curtis, publisher of the website, confirmed that the three top casinos for slot machine revenue are Resorts World World at Aquedeuct Race Track in new York, N.Y., Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods, both in Connecticut.

The website reported, "Resorts World, the racino at Aqueduct, was the nation's top generator of slot machine revenue with a $57.5 million win in May. Resorts World came in ahead of Connecticut's Mohegan Sun, which booked $55.4 million. Connecticut's Foxwoods was third with $50.4 million in slot-generated revenue."

These three east coast casinos generate more slot machine revenues than any of the Las Vegas resorts.

The four western counties in Massachusetts and the greater Hartford area are key markets for the two Connecticut casinos.

Bob Sheldon, former Foxwoods chief operating officer, once told Casino Journal, "The high-volume customers we like to see are within a tank of gas away from Foxwoods. That's typically from North Jersey to lower Maine."

While Ameristar has purchased the former Westinghouse complex for its proposed Springfield casino, the buzz has been about downtown locations. This newspaper broke the news earlier this year that Chief Development Officer Kevin Kennedy prefered a downtown location, something specifically mentioned in the Hard Rock statement.

One of the two locations has received more publicity than the other. While there have been reports on combining the sites currently occupied by the Peter Pan bus terminal, The Republican building and the former Kittredge building, another location in the South End has also been identified.

The South End site, according to a source speaking anonymously, would include the Howard Street and Bliss Street blocks from the corner of Main and Union streets to the corner of Bliss Street and Main Street. This two city block area includes two city-owned parcels — the former Zanetti school and the Howard Street Armory, the former home of the South End Community Center (SECC).

A good will campaign has begun in the city with two of the casino developers contributing earlier this month to the city's fireworks display.

Joseph Gallo, chair of the board of directors the SECC, said, "All of the casinos have shown an interest in helping the center."

He did not offer any additional details about those meetings or offers of assistance. The SECC is currently planning a new center on the grounds of the former Gemini building on Central Street — currently owned by the city — that would include a pool and programs for seniors.

The SECC was partially destroyed by the June 1, 2011 tornado. While part of the historic armory building still stands, Gallo said the organization would not return to it as it was too small for the number of people served and did not have parking facilities.